Student dies in crash

Oct 082006
Authors: Geoff Johnson

A CSU student died after crashing his car Wednesday night in Poudre Canyon.

Alex Wappelhorst, a political science major, spun off the road and slammed into a tree about 12 miles west of the town of Rustic.

His friends describe him as a gentle soul.

“He’d never hold a grudge against anyone,” said Sam Gonzalez, a close friend of Wappelhorst. “I was with him all the time, and I never saw him get mad at anyone – no matter how much they might have deserved it.”

Gonzalez, Wappelhorst and Stephen Johnson grew up together in the same cul-de-sac in Centennial.

When the three were young, Gonzalez said, they formed their bond playing outdoors.

“We’d play kick the can or hide and seek tag until 10 or 11 at night, when our parents would finally call us in,” Gonzalez said. “We had fun.”

Gonzalez and Johnson went to elementary school and high school with Alex, but not middle school – Alex went to a private middle school, Gonzalez said.

The three had a club in early elementary school called “Asaboo,” Johnson said in an e-mail. The club had a song set to the tune of “The Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles.

Johnson returned to Denver from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and Gonzalez from CSU when they received news that Alex had died.

Wappelhorst was returning to Fort Collins, said Colorado State Patrol Cpl. Wayne Nichols, when his car went off the highway.

Wappelhorst was alone in his car following two friends – both CSU students – in another car, Nichols said. Due to their bereaved state, Nichols would not give the identities of the friends Wappelhorst was following.

The three had driven through the Poudre Canyon and turned around at Cameron Pass.

Wappelhorst’s car spun off the road at mile marker 79, about 12 miles west of the town of Rustic, Nichols said.

Gonzalez and Wappelhorst had continued their education together when they both attended CSU. This was after Alex had taken a year off after high school, which included a few months in Israel, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez remembers Wappelhorst as a man incapable of ill will.

“He was the person most dear to me,” a devastated Gonzalez said.

Johnson said that Wappelhorst was also an ambitious and industrious young man, one who would never shrink away from a challenge.

When the trio was in high school, Wappelhorst came up with a plan to win a million dollars in a Taco Bell giveaway by traveling to different states to collect the necessary game pieces, Johnson said.

“We spent a good 50 dollars each on these cups before we finally gave up,” he added.

In elementary school, Alex convinced Johnson and Gonzalez to try building a computer and learning a complex programming language – to take advantage of the then-newly booming computer industry.

“We actually got a grant for $1,000,” Johnson said. “I created a program that froze the computer – my first virus, I guess.”

Johnson, who is now studying computer science, said that through that memory of Wappelhorst in particular, his fallen friend will be with him forever.

“I never put that together until now,” he said. “Alex got me started on what would be my passion for the rest of my life.”

Staff writer Geoff Johnson can be reached at

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